Stem, how will you grow?
My bet, into a upscale
Attractive Instagram posts peaked my interest in the newly opened Stem Japanese Eatery. Given the owner’s previous work, and menu with an omakase option and fish flown in from Japan, I expected high end Japanese. Stem offers innovation and great execution but don’t expect hoity-toity food. I think fellow food blogger, Penny and Rusty, nailed it when they called Stem an izakaya, albeit an elevated one.
On my visit, the cooked dishes were the star of my dining experience. In fact the bulk of the expansive menu is cooked food.
The dashi omelette topped with braised mushrooms, essentially was a well prepared savoury tamago. Each bite had a smoky flavour, probably from the dashi, and was not sweet. I was impressed how light the layered egg slice was. This was a great start to dinner.
Kakiage is similar to tempura but instead of one whole piece of an ingredient, bits and strips of various veggies are fried together. Consider this the Japanese fritter. The ling cod kakiage that was served was executed very well. It was crisp without being greasy. The fish and bits of shrimp were tender and juicy.
In between bites of omelette and kagiage, the simple beer pickled diakon were a perfect crunchy and tart palate cleanser. This plain dish was pretty and enjoyable.
Our waitress highly recommended the only cooked when ordered seasonal Staub Gohan. After trying it, I do too. In fact, I would call this dish Stem’s signature must order item.
Staub is the brand of the cookware used and gohan means rice in Japanese. When researching the menu before my visit, this was the one dish that stood out to me since rice is taken very seriously in Japan.
The dish does take a while to come out but once the lid is lifted off the Staub cast iron cocotte the wait is worth it. As of late February, the rice is cooked with shimeji mushroom and oysters. The rice is fluffy, aromatic and infused with umami from the mushrooms and bivalves. Similar to Korean dolsot bibimbap, if you leave a small outer layer of rice untouched, rice crackling will form. The crunchy bits added another flavor and textural dimension to the dish.
The rice in the Staub Gohan was fantastic but the rice used in the nigiri was a little odd. Each piece of sushi had a sweet aftertaste. Although the selection of fish (chutoro tuna, Hokkaido scallop, yellow tail, grouper, and Isaki) we ordered was fresh, it didn’t have the same impact that I have experienced at elite sushi restaurants in town.
The chu toro was missing the rich, mouth coating buttery feeling. The Hokkaido scallops lack a clean, crisp sweet taste. Although wasabi was present underneath each piece of fish, I really didn’t detect it.
Stem’s sushi doesn’t have that ephemeral eye opening burst of flavour that you want to hold onto and savour, but never can quality. Given the prices charged per nigiri I was expecting more. As a result, sushi is the one thing I may not re-order on a return visit.
To finish off the night, I got the cream anmitsu (blame Kantaro Ametani part 2). Cream anmitsu is a traditional Japanese dessert featuring kanten jelly, sweet azuki beans, fruit, and ice cream all drenched in sweet syrup. In general the dessert is about contrasting textures, as most of the ingredients are plainly sweet or neutral in flavour.
Stem’s version was fancier with mochi balls, green tea ice cream, green tea jellies and roasted black sesame paste, which was the star for me as I normally do not like my sweets to come with beans. The black sesame added an earthy and nutty taste to an otherwise plain sweet concoction.
As a bonus, it was also fun to stab things in the bowl with the tool the staff presented. Despite my disdain for beans and lentils in desserts, I enjoyed the cream anmitsu.
After my meal at Stem, I was impressed with its attention to detail and well prepared cooked food. The food paired nicely with my umeshu and I would expect sake and wine to be good companions as well. It’s been a while since a causal neighborhood drinking hole (a.k.a. an izakaya) has impressed me with their fare. The quality of the food has me eyeing a return visit to try their omakase option.
Stem Japanese Eatery
5205 Rumble Street
Burnaby, BC V5J 2B7
Telephone: 604 434 0259